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Musique Concrète

Parent categories: French music - electronic music

Related: INA-GRM: Groupe de Recherches Musicales - art music - electronic music - electronic art music - experimental music - sound - soundscape - tape-editing


Musique Concrète (also known as Electroacoustics) is the name given to a class of electronic music produced from editing together tape-recorded fragments of natural and industrial sounds. Concrète (as opposed to "Abstraite", traditional composition) was pioneered in the late 1940s and 1950s, spurred by developments in microphones and the commercial availability of the magnetic tape recorder.

Pierre Schaeffer, a Paris radio broadcaster, created some of the earliest pieces of Musique Concrète, including "Étude aux chemins de fer" ("Study with Trains"), "Étude au piano I" ("Piano Study I") and "Étude aux casseroles" ("Study with Baking Pans"). Each of these pieces involved splicing, speeding up, looping, and reversing recordings of sound sources like trains, piano and rattling cookware. Schaeffer also collaborated with another Musique Concrète pioneer, Pierre Henry. Together, they created pieces such as "Symphonie pour un homme seule" ("Symphony for a Man Alone").

Concrète was combined with other, synthesized forms of Electronic music to create Edgar Varèse's "Poème électronique". "Poème" was played at the 1958 Brussels World's fair through 400 carefully placed loudspeakers in a special pavilion designed by Iannis Xenakis.

After the 1950s, Concrète was somewhat displaced by other forms of Electronic composition, although its influence can be seen in popular music by many bands, including The Beatles and Pink Floyd. Traditional and non-traditional Concrète has experienced a revival in the 1980s and 1990s, although modern sampling technology is now often used in place of magnetic tape.

Recently, the growing popularity in all forms of electronica has led to a re-birth of Musique Concrète. Artists such as Christian Fennesz, and Francisco Lopez use many Concrète techniques in their music while often being classified under more common electronica genres such as Intelligent Dance Music or Downtempo. Electronica magazines such as The Wire regularly feature articles and reviews of Musique Concrète. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musique_concr%E8te [Aug 2004]

First Concert of Musique Concrète

March 18, 1950
First concert of musique concrète, Paris, Auditorium of the Ecole Normale de Musique. First performance of Symphonie pour un homme seul by Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry. --http://www.ina.fr/grm/presentation/dates.en.html [Aug 2004]

Film Editing

It is no surprise to find that musique concrète took its inspiration from film editing in many ways, so that sound was organised according to the logic of montage principles, rather than harmonic sequences. Pierre Henry has claimed that musique concrète "proceeds from photography, from cinema" (Henry, 2000: 22), whilst Rob Young has written that "the artistic moment no longer occurred in the written manuscript, nor with the physicality of performance, but became distributed within the manipulation of stock and found sounds, a process resembling film editing." (Young, 2000: 14) --http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/film/journal/articles/audio-visual-ryhythms.htm [Aug 2004]

Young, Rob (2000) Roll Tape: Pioneer Spirits in Musique Concrète, in Peter Shapiro (ed.) Modulations: A History of Electronic Music. New York: Capirinha, pp. 8-20.

Revolver (1966) - Beatles [...]

Much of the backing track consists of a series of prepared tape loops, stemming from Lennon and McCartney's interest in and experiments with magnetic tape and musique concrète techniques at that time. According to Beatles session chronicler Mark Lewisohn, Lennon and McCartney prepared a series of loops at home, and these then were added to the pre-recorded backing track. This was reportedly done live in a single take, with multiple tape recorders running simultaneously, and some of the longer loops extended out of the control room and down the corridor. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolver_%28album%29 [jan 2006]


  1. Modulations: A History of Electronic Music: Throbbing Words on Sound - Iara Lee [Amazon.com]
    In this expansive history of electronic music, Shapiro (The Rough Guide to Drum `n' Bass) chronicles the creative moment of generating sound through sampling, mixing, and manipulation. Written by musicians and aficionados, the articles assembled here form a fascinating account of innovators from John Cage to Miles Davis, thoroughly exploring this sprawling genre and its musical offshoots. Densely packed and meticulously detailed, the book makes some startling geographic and stylistic leaps in an effort to trace the comprehensive history of electronic music. Through interviews, vivid pictures, and crisp commentary, it illustrates how electronic music is now at work in the majority of today's musical styles. This work, a tie-in to Iara Lee's 1998 film of the same name, explores in greater detail some of the same ground covered in J.M. Kelly's The Rough Guide to Techno Music (2000). An essential tool for anyone interested in this music, whether mildly or deeply. -- Caroline Dadas

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